I recently posted this video with one of my students and a Lipizzan playing with a ball. It is part of my Horse-fun-ship series but I wanted to explain more how and why I do "Playing" like this.
When we first started working with this mare, she was very dominant, somewhat spooky, unfocused, and disinterested in interacting with us. She came into the arena and just wanted to leave. She was also PETRIFIED of that ball. We have been working with her for about 6-8 months and she now dives for her halter and bridle and shows total focus in the ring whether at Liberty, riding and/or Playing. We started with Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Rituals to build connection, bond and trust and then moved into Playing Advanced Liberty and Games around everyday tasks. I am always astounded by how quickly horses seek to connect when played with this way. They become so interested and curious and playful. All you need is your own creativity to guide the fun. I have seen even some really serious cases turn around in a few months time to my surprise as I always go in with no idea how long things will take.
Ball and Toy/prop work is fun and a great way to get horses bolder, bring out their Play/herd instincts and teach them to focus on a task and build bond and connection. I don't like to use the word desensitize as much because it is over done and misused to the point of breaking trust and shutting horses down in some cases. I prefer to try to get the horse to play with things that they are afraid of or find hidden surprise treats in scary areas. This changes their perception quickly and provides a positive reinforcement for getting brave.
To start the ball game, you can start with a food and verbal reward when they touch the ball and build from there. You can use voice commands and hand signals as well. Another way is to put the food under the ball and show them to move it to find the food.
So if you haven't seen the video here it is....Lipizzan Soccer!